Is there any activity that brings such lowness of heart as that of stripping the Christmas tree, dragging its dropping needles through the hall, stuffing it into the back of the car in order to drive it to the recycling centre? I console myself that, once it is shredded, the tree will go back into the ecosystem as bark mulch, doing valuable work for the city council parks and public spaces. It is a relief that here are no more chocolates left in the house; it is a good thing to be finding it so easy to abstain from alcohol and rich food after the weeks (I mean weeks) of excess. However, despite the relief, the one word that sums up 6 January is ‘flat’. My lowness of mood nearly leads to a row with the other half when I suggest that we give up the tree next year. It’s time to forget the holidays and get back to porridge.
Yet another scenario also plays out. I pause to look at the Peruvian ceramic crib figurines, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, the two shepherds, the ox and the ass. Out of scale and out of style stand three plastic Playmobil kings, bearing their gifts and accompanied by their camel with all his travelling equipment. This ought to be the day of exchanging gifts. Instead many exhausted people have already taken down their decorations a week ago and the recycling centre has filled up with trees. Christmas, giant retail Christmas, started in November, with bizarre new traditions that did not exist last year such as ‘Black Friday’ and ‘turning on the lights in the city centre’, a ploy to get droves of customers into the shops. The January sales, an older tradition, no longer comfort as everything is in size XXL, everything is acrylic, everything is made in China. In any case people are drained by shopping, spending and consuming so there is no energy left for sales.
The Playmobil Magi used to arrive on 6 January, having slowly made their way along the mantelpiece from Christmas Day (the real first day of Christmas), across the hearthrug and over to their final destination on the twelfth and last day. Now they no longer set out for the crib because there is no child to make sure to move them along the mantelpiece day by day. The baby Jesus who would wait hiding behind a photo frame until he was brought out on Christmas Eve, ready to be born the following morning, is now simply on a par with all the other decorations, to be taken out and put away again. Our artisanal micro-traditions have been forgotten. Life moves on, the younger generation have become young adults. They want to travel the world, live and work in other countries, become vegans.
For Coptic Christians, Christmas day is 6 January because they have kept the Julian calendar. It is celebrated after 43 days of vegan fasting (nothing new about veganism!) so that the feasting really means something after weeks of restraint. It is strange to think that in another part of Dublin, not far away, a very different 6 January is taking place:
While in Australia and Egypt the festival acquires a deeper meaning for people who have experienced the fear and sadness of terror attacks.
Taking down the tree, that dreary annual chore, has forced a moment of reflection. There is a secret that the retailers, giant and small, (whose mission is growth, profit, consumption and waste) do not want us to know. Flatness, restraint, not feasting, even sadness, all are necessary to the fabric of existence, being woven into the shared traditions that we create. Without them there can be no excitement or joy.